256 out of 410 days: Helmet Hair

So I was looking at the Neapolis coins that served as prototypes for the earliest coins in the name of Rome.  And, Apollo has a very flippy hairdo of a not terribly typical type.  Here’s another to prove I’m not making this up:

That flip was feeling familiar.  And not from just the Roman type (RRC 1/1):

Here’s a link to one more of these.  Anyway.  It struck me that that hair flip is visually quite related to the neck flap that appears on Roma’s helmet on certain early types like these:

Or to a lesser extent on these earlier bronzes (not to mention Rome’s first silver piece with bearded Mars and Horse’s Head probably also minted at Neapolis, modern Naples):

But that’s clearly not the direction of influence.  The culprit must be the pegasi of Corinth that became so common in S Italy at the end of the 4th century BC:

The interesting iconographic borrowing isn’t really the Roma helmets, but the Neapolis (and soon-to-be-Roman) Apollo who gets his flip and snaky tendrils by way of Athena’s Corinthian manifestation.

Update 4 March 2014:  Check out images of Roman types at Nick Molinari’s site, note especially the image of the RRC 2/1, known from only one specimen.

230 out of 410 days: Minotaurs on Roman Legionary Standards



Here’s the Pliny quote:

The eagle was assigned to the Roman legions as their special badge by Gaius Marius in his second consulship. Even previously it had been their first badge, with four others, wolves, minotaurs, horses and boars going in front of the respective ranks; but a few years before the custom had come in of carrying the eagles alone into action, the rest being left behind in camp. Marius discarded them altogether. Thenceforward it was noticed that there was scarcely ever a legion’s winter camp without a pair of eagles being in the neighbourhood.

Horses, Wolves, Boars are all featured on the Republican coin series.   Not so much, minotaurs …  It’s not really an argument, but surely something went wrong in Pliny’s account or the manuscript or something… Very strange.  But then there is the Festus to back it up…

MINOTAURUS. The figure of the Minotaur was among the military insignia, because the projects of the general should not be less mysterious than the labyrinth which held this monster. The Minotaur, it is said, was the fruit of the love of Pasiphae, wife of King Minos, and a bull. But others say that Taurus was just the name of her lover.

A little background on Roman Military Insignia.

Update 8/12/2016:  The thing to read on this subject is:


218 out of 410 days: Civic Virtues

This little coin, a silver sesterius of 45 BC or there about, has me worried about the chronological limits of my book project.  Yes, stopping in 49BC to leave the discussion of Caesar and the Civil Wars to another book does make good sense.  However, a good number of post-49BC coins are intimately thematically related to earlier coins in the series.  The issue of Palikanus taken as a whole is a good illustration of the “republican” characteristics of some of these later issues.

The above coin was thought to show a money pot or olla and a banker’s tessarae.  This at least was Wiseman’s suggestion, based on the banking interests of the moneyer’s family.

Wiseman, T. P. (1971) New Men in the Roman Senate, 139BC-AD14. Oxford p. 85-6.

His idea is largely endorsed by Crawford and even to an extent by Zehnacker.

Zehnacker, H. (1972) ‘La Numismatique de la République romaine: bilan et perspectives’, ANRW I.I (Berlin), 266-96, at 284: “En tout cas, l’appartenance au monde de la finance expliquerait trés bien le mélange caractéristique chez les monetales de noms illustres—des cadets de famille qui ont préféré l’argentaux honneurs—et de noms quasi inconnus—de parvenus”

Based on the themes of the rest of the series as a whole, I think L. R. Taylor’s original suggestion of voting urn and ballot is far more likely (VDRR p. 226).  The series celebrates:

Libertas and the Tribune’s Bench on the Rostra:

Obverse of RRC 473/1. 1944.100.3528

Reverse of RRC 473/1. 1944.100.3528

Honor and a Curule Chair flanked by Grain:

Obverse of RRC 473/2b. 1944.100.3533

Reverse of RRC 473/2b. 1944.100.3533

Then on the quinarius, Felicitas and Victory:

Given that all the other elements in the series celebrate civic virtues, even popular virtues, interpreting the smallest denomination in the series as a banking advert seems a bit of a stretch. A voting theme would harmonize much better.

All that said, there was a temple of Ops (wealth) in Roman.  If its not voting being represented, I’d go with another divine personification before assuming a reference to a family banking business.

Also the use of the genitive on all these is types is striking.

Perhaps I’ll just need to include a flash forward to work a few of this series in.

Update 24 January 2014:  So I was re-reading Witschonke 2012 on the possible uses of control marks at the Roman mint.  Really the very best thing on the subject.  Speculative in places by necessity, but logical and solid reasoning throughout.  It depends on the important work of Stannard (Metallurgy in numismatics vol. 3 1993: 45-68 pl 1-2) on the evidence for mint practices revealed by gauging, namely that the mint worked in batches.  What if money pot and tessarae (if that’s what they are) aren’t banking icongraphy but in fact minting iconography?   A claim to the rigorous control of the issue.  A celebration of Juno Moneta.  Something like this coin of c. 46BC:


190 out of 410 days: Silenus, Pan, and Dionysus (Father Liber)


There seems to me to be some logical inconsistency in how we identify Pan and Silenus on Roman Republican coins.  The type above is likely the first to depict either.  Crawford dates it to 91; Mattingly prefers 90 (2004: 248).  Quite logically the “Silenus” on the obverse is taken to pun on the moneyer’s name, D. Silanus.  The following year (according to both Crawford and Mattingly), C. Vibius Pansa strikes a coin that looks like this:


These coins might almost be called vanity pieces.  There were probably less than 10 dies created for the manufacture for these types, but his other coins with Apollo and Minerva in a Quadriga (RRC 342/4-5) used upwards of a 1000 dies.  Crawford assumes another name pun and identifies the head with pointy ears as Pan and the head with the ivy wreath as Silenus and sees them both as masks.  Notice the heads have no necks.  I find this problematic as Silanus’ Silenus and Pansa’s Pan have nearly identical iconography.  If we look beyond the coins to for comparative iconography it become clear that Pan and Silenus have a pretty distinctive iconography.  Pans are part goat and usually have more animalistic bodies, especially their lower halves.  Their heads are marked out by two goat horns rising from their forehead.  Silenoi or Papasilenus is an old satyr, pug-nosed, covered in a white flocked suit on stage, and horse ears like any satyr.  [Note: the ears are pretty much the only difference between a Silenus depiction and that of Socrates.]  Here is a perfect side by side:

Red jasper gem engraved with the conjoined masks of Pan and Seilenos; above is a star, below is a shepherd's crook.

Of course, rigid rules need not apply.  Perhaps the same image can represent both Silenus and Pan.  Compare for instance these coins of Panticapaeum:

The head on the coins of this city is often identified in catalogs as Silenus but because of the name of the community a visual pun is often assumed.

I am less convinced that a case can be made for the ivy crowded figure to be a Silenus.  The face is just too smooth, the nose to straight.  This seems very much like a head of Dionysus.  The hair style is the same as that found on the Thasian type used by the Romans in Macedonia:

Compare the hair roll over the forehead, the loop down in front of the ears, and the prominent back knot.  The two locks of hair hanging down have been slightly modified on the Roman type.  The front is left curly the back has been modified into a straight fillet, perhaps to emphasize the mask like qualities.  Notice that the two bunches of ivy berries at the top of the head and the ivy leaves below.  The typical five on the Thracian type have become just three but with lobes and berries.

Pansa’s silver types was echoed on a few of the bronzes of his fellow moneyer Q. Titius:

Copper alloy coin.

Copper alloy coin.

Q. Titius depicts a beardless Liber on his denarii with a very similar hair style:

These are the first representations of Liber (Roman Dionysus) on the silver coinage.  His first appearance at all was on an especially created denomination of the silver the bes or 2/3s coin = 8 unciae.

Even on this rare worn specimen the hair style can be made out.

The adoptive son of the Pansa just mentioned echoed elements of his father’s series in 48 BC (RRC 449).


I’ve put up this small selection just to note the later rendering of Dionysus and the Pan/Silenus mask.  On the series of 90/89BC (RRC 342), Ceres had been paired with Apollo who is now missing from the later series, replace with a youthful Dionysus.

Update 3 January 2014: Just another nice juxtaposition of Silenus (central figure; note: beard and balding forehead and hair suit) and Pan (right figure, note: two horns from top of his head)


Mirror with symposion scene; Baltimore, The Walters Art Gallery; Etruskische Spiegel V, Taf. 43. Discussed in T. P. Wiseman. ‘The God of the Lupercal’, JRS 85 (1995) 1-22, at 9-10 (with plates 1-111) and ‘Liber; Myth, Drama and Ideology in Republican Rome’ in The Roman Middle Republic (2000) 265-299.  Wiseman identifies Marsyas as a type of silenos.  Here we see him dancing being imitated by a little pan, labelled Painiscos, or ‘Paniskos’.



Also note regarding the name pun on Silanus’s coin the first illustated above, inWiseman 2000: 270 with fig. 6 & 7 that younger satyrs with no beard or a short beard are labeled SILANOS and SILANVS.

186 out of 410 days: More on Aediles and the Coins

This type of 63 BC borrows design elements from both of these coins of the period when Cinna controlled Rome. They were minted between 86-84 BC depending on whose chronology one follows.  Here are the two forerunners:

These two forerunners are the first two types struck by aediles the first by plebeian aediles, the second by curule aediles.   They both clearly identify the office of the issuer(s) on the obverse.  They also show on the obverse a goddess whose festival was tasked to each respective pair of aediles: the games of Cybele were the responsibility of the Curule Aediles, the games of Ceres the Plebeian.  Both reserve types also show the type of ceremonial seat on which the magistrate conducted his official business.  The subsellium for the plebeian aediles, the curule chair for the curule aediles.  Both types could be read as reflecting the honors and duties of each magistracy.  Perhaps an emphasis on constitutionality in a period when the constitution was in such a so precarious position?

Fast forward to the 60s as the type of Brocchus draws inspiration from both.  This can be seen as confirmation of a change in the honors and status of the plebeian aediles under Sulla.  Lily Ross Taylor many years ago pointed out the necessity of assuming such a change based on this passage of Cicero:

Now I am aedile elect, I consider what it is that I have received from the Roman people; I consider that I am bound to celebrate holy games with the most solemn ceremonies to Ceres, to Bacchus, and to Libera; that I am bound to render Flora propitious to the Roman nation and people by the splendour of her games; that it is my office to celebrate those most ancient games, which were the first that were ever called Roman games, with the greatest dignity and with all possible religious observance, in honour of Juno, Jupiter, and Minerva; that the charge of protecting all the sacred buildings and the whole city is entrusted to me; that as a recompense for all that labour and anxiety these honours are granted to me,—an honourable precedence in delivering my opinion in the senate; a toga praetexta; a curule chair; a right of transmitting my image to the recollection of my posterity.

Before Lily set the record rights some had assumed Cicero must be mistaken about the nature of his own office.   Clearly by 69 BC plebeian aediles had been upgraded to a better chair than the hard-benched subsellium.  Sulla’s constitutional changes seem like a good time for such a change, as the coins clearly show us that the subsellium was still in use in the mid 80s and the Ciceronian passage tells us the practice had changed by 70BC.  Thus we’re limited to a 15 year window for the change.

Schafer’s 1989 dissertation points out that IF Brocchus’ coin commemorates an ancestor’s aedileship that aedileship must be that of his father’s because it must have been after the reforms of Sulla.   Perhaps that’s even why its worth commemorating?  Could his father have been the first such plebeian aedile to have curule chair and fasces?     

And why would an aedile have fasces anyway?  Schafer notes these passages from Dionysius of Halicarnassus:

After this they also returned thanks to the gods worshipped in the city, and prevailed upon the patricians to pass a vote for the confirmation of their new magistracy [i.e. the tribune of the plebs]. And having obtained this also, they asked further that the senate should allow them to appoint every year two plebeians to act as assistants to the tribunes in everything the latter should require, to decide such causes as the others should refer to them, to have the oversight of public places, both sacred and profane, and to see that the market was supplied with plenty of provisions. Having obtained this concession also from the senate, they chose men whom they called assistants and colleagues of the tribunes, and judges. Now, however, they are called in their own language, from one of their functions, overseers of sacred places or aediles, and their power is no longer subordinate to that of other magistrates, as formerly; but many affairs of great importance are entrusted to them, and in most respects they resemble more or less the agoranomoi or “market-overseers” among the Greeks. …

The superintendence and oversight of the sacrifices and games performed during this festival [The Latin Festival] was committed to the tribunes’ assistants, who held, as I said, the magistracy now called the aedileship; and they were honoured by the senate with a purple robe, an ivory chair, and the other insignia that the kings had had.

This puts a lot of weight on the very last passage and the unspecified “other insignia” and the assumption that must include the fasces.  Dio was writing in the Age of Augustus and must seen plebeian aediles with the honors such as Cicero describes in the post Sullan period and then retrojected these back onto the earliest days of Roman history.  OR, he’s just saying they had these honors for the games but not their other duties…  In which case we need not assume any change under Sulla.

Why an aedile would have axes on his fasces is a mystery to me.  Their sphere of responsibilities were very much inside the pomerium.  The only explanation I can think of is Feriae Latinae the festival being held on the Alban Mount would take the aediles out of the city in their official capacity.  Perhaps that is where the axes come in.

Brocchus’ type was itself mimicked later, but not to symbolize the aedileship!  L. Livinius Regulus modifies it (without axes in the fasces) to symbolize his father’s praetorship, and perhaps also his own turn as Praefectus Urbi.

Finally, I’m interested in the fact that Brocchus is one of the earliest moneyers to feel it worthwhile to add IIIVir on his coinage to make clear his own magistracy.  Other pre-49 issues to do this are RRC 401, 407, 411, 413, 437.  IIIVir (or IIIIVir after Caesar increases the number) are more common during the Civil Wars: 440, 442, 444, 454, 463, 364, 472, 480,  484, 494, 525.   Crawford describes this as a whim of the moneyer, but I’d suggest that like the aedile labels above.  The emphasis on authority suggests a general concern for constitutionality in a time of constitutional crisis or at least destabilization.

In the case of Brocchus it seems that labelling his office helps remove any speculation that he might himself be the aedile to which the types refer.  I find it hard to believe that the type is ‘aspirational’  suggesting honors he wants but has not yet received.

The use of the curule chair as a symbol in its own right follows on from representations of the subsellium with figures seated on it.  The removal of the figures and the use of a just an object as a symbol seems to make the types refer more to the institution rather than the individual.

151, 152 out of 410 days: Visual Organization


Yesterday, I decided I couldn’t see the shape of the chapter. So I moved off the computer and started sorting. 57 coins later I’ve got a pretty good sense of the intersections, but the linear narrative isn’t there yet. In the process I found a secondary topic that is just itching for independent publication as a ‘note’ somewhere. SDA had me dictate a draft of that piece to him first thing this morning so after the chapter is done I have something substantial to come back to. It was our second dictation attempt. The first was for a book review. The idea is to get more words on paper quicker with less fretting. So far so good. Okay back to my scraps of paper.

148, 149 out of 410 days: The Dating Game

Ideally, one dates coins by the hoard evidence.   People squirrel away pots of money and for whatever reason never come back for their savings.  These groups of coins help numismatists figure out which coins were minted in what sequence.  The numismatist takes all the hoards and tries to arrange them into a sequence of newest to oldest based on the contents.  They end up with a much more complicated version of a chart like this one with the coin makers down one side and hoards down the other with the number of attested specimens of each specimen listed:


The wear of the coins — a subjective judgment up to a point — can be used to bolster support for such a relative chronology.  So in our fictitious chart it would be reassuring if the coin of Bob was really worn and crummy  looking in the Greece hoard, but the specimens in the Bahamas and Cayman hoards were nice and shiny.  So far so good for accuracy.  But what about Gigi and Heidi?  Did they make coins at the same time?  Or, did one come before the other?  Would wear help in such a case?  Would we trust that kind of assumption?  What would we say if their coins looked really, really similar in all the fine details?  What would we say if the looked totally different, not just different subject, but as if artists with two totally polarized styles did the carving?  Would that make them less likely to have been made at the same time?  What criteria would we use to make the judgment?  Observation of stylistic similarities and differences often influences how coins are grouped in our relative chronologies.  The similarities or differences are not themselves wholly subjective, but the interpretation of their meaning is.   Even once one has a fairly decent relative chronology, it needs to be hung on an absolute dateline.

Look at the chart again.  Notice three hoards all close with coins by Frank: Exeter, Easton, and Edmonton.  And there sure are a lot of Frank’s coins left around, even in the Greece hoard.  Here the numismatist might assume that Imaginaria (the hypothetical state whose hypothetical coins we’re studying) was at war.   Wars are expensive.  Lots of coins get made to pay troops and suppliers, etc.  Lots of people also get scared and hide their coins.  And, lots of people also die, making it harder for them to come back and find their pots of coins.  Not great for them.  Very useful for the numismatist.  But can we be sure?   What would be really useful is if it turned out we had an exact date from some literary text that said that Eastalia (ancient Easton) was burned to the ground on 14 February 530 AND that a professional archaeologist found the Easton hoard under the layer of destruction firmly associated with this known historical event.  But that rarely happens.  Usually hoards are found by metal detector hobbyists in areas never likely to be professionally excavated let alone tied to a literary record.  More commonly we take stray finds of coins from controlled excavations in areas associated with major historical events to help establish a terminus ante quem for specific coin types and then tie that back into the relative chronology of the hoard evidence (e.g. Morgantina vel Numantia).

But that’s not all!  The Roman republican numismatist has many more tricks up his sleeve.  Meet our comrade: Prosopography.   It is the subtle art of constructing an Ancient Who’s Who.  It tries to figure out the inter-generational and marital relationships and career path of each known historical figure.   To do this it uses inscriptions and literary testimony and combines those with assumptions about typical naming customs in specific families, regulations governing the holding of public office and more.  Why would this help the numismatist date coins?  Well, if we know an Edgar was elected to a magistracy that had a minimum age requirement of 45 in 542 and we think the typical age for a moneyership was thirty, then maybe we can assume that the coins of Edgar were made about 527.   If it is the same Edgar and the time separating his magistracy and his moneyship were at the standard interval and if our assumptions about what that interval is are all correct.  Still, it’s better than outright guessing.  Ancient historians use the evidence they have.   We might also use this type of evidence to help our relative sequencing.  The order in which Isaac, Justin, and Kira held some later office might provide a clue to the order in which they held the moneyership.

There are also times when specific issues are tied to known historical events and that information is then tied back into our relative chronology.  Sometimes the coins are absolutely associated with an event but the historians and coins geeks like to fight about when the event really happened base on a wide range of evidence (e.g. founding of Narbo).  Other times the association of coins with a well dated historical event is based on assumptions about what the image meant to the original viewer (e.g. the oath scene on the coins TI.VETVR).  These historical arguments become relevant to the whole series as the relative chronology from the hoards is hung onto these apparently fixed points.

Surely it’s not so shaky as all this?  No, not completely.  We know there were three moneyers each year and so for the Roman Republic (not Imaginaria discussed above) we also get to divide our group of moneyers into ‘colleges’ and if we feel confident (on stylistic grounds?!) about those colleges then we can sequence our relative chronology into years more easily.  And, every once in a while we get a new big hoard with a useful closing date and it confirms and/or updates our preexisting arrangements (e.g. The Mesagne Hoard).  Good archaeological evidence also comes along periodically. And, scholars with bigger brains than mine have been working on the arrangement and refining the details for a very, very long time.   The relative chronology is likely to shift but not drastically so.  The absolute chronology is probably good within at least five years (so Crawford himself, RRC I p. 74 speaking about the 2nd century in particular).

The problem comes in how both numismatists and historians (and archaeologists too?) treat the years given to coins.  Certitude is a dangerous thing.  RRC for most types affixes a specific year.  Modern databases are great things but most aren’t programmed to accept the input of anything but a specific year or range of years.  None of the major coin databases I use have included data about post-Crawford dates.  This creates a default to Crawford.   However, updating the dates to new scholarship doesn’t really fix the intellectual problem.  The dating of any one coin in the series is usually based on dozens of assumptions about the plausibility of its place in the sequence and the relationship of that sequence to real time.   There is no one place any scholar, let alone student, can go to have all thought assumptions spelled out for the individual coin type.  The discussion and charts are condensed and focused on portions of sequence and their interrelationship.    It’s not a house of cards, but it is not bedrock either.  There is no open invitation to inspect the foundations in the minutia.

And the minutia is often what interests historians.

A few precious coins once in a rare while get their own independent date based on other criteria.  When the historian opens a coin catalog or database each type has a specific year or year range attached to it.  This then informs how the type is discussed along side literary accounts.  The archaeologist may even use these dates to determine the deposition dates of certain related finds.  Dates are one of the things that makes coins relevant to other discussions.  Change the date of a coin by a few years or even just change the sequence of two coins and the whole picture changes.

Crawford dates this coin to 134 BC.  Mattingly to 133 BC.  Not that big of a difference.  Both use this hoard  as the basis of their arguments.


However, this very similar coin showing the same monument is put five years later in 128 BC by Mattingly, but one year earlier, 135 BC, by Crawford.  Mattingly has the advantage of the “New Italy Hoard” to reverse the relative position of the two coins and suggest a gap between their issue. [Hersh, NC 1977: 24-27 with Crawford,  Survey Num. Research 1979: 172f. and which for some reason I can’t find in the Hoard Database. Grr.]


Thus we now think the representation of the monument became more elaborate not less in the second representation and that it was revived rather than continued. (I find a a satisfying logic in the fact that the earlier coin with its radical departure from traditional Roman coin iconography would say ROMA on it.)  Moreover, where do we fit this celebration of the Minucius who suppress the populist Maelius and then distributed his grain to the people at a low price for which he was honored with said monument.  (I link here to Livy, but there are also relevant references in Dion. Hal. 9.4, Pliny NH 18.15 and 34.21.)  Obviously there is some link between this narrative, the coin image used at this time, and the political circumstance surrounding Tiberius Gracchus’ famous tribunate of 133 BC.  But what?   We used to think it was the image used the year before Gracchus now we need to consider what it means for the imaged to be deployed in the same year and for the image to be revived five years later.   And then what about this coin of M. MARCI MN.F?


Everyone is pretty sure those big ears of grain popping up under victory recall an ancestor (even his father perhaps?!) who distributed grain at a cheap price as aedile (Pliny, NH 18, 15).  But as far as I can tell the hoards help us not a lick on the relative chronology between this assertion and the similar one made by the first Minucius coin above.   Mattingly fits it in the year before and sees the Minucius as an elaborate rebuttal to Marcius’ claim.   Crawford has it coming after.  The historian worried about the political climate at the time of the Gracchi would sorely like to know which.

Enough. For now.

145 out of 410 days: Argos Panoptes?

Obverse of RRC 348/6. 2012.34.10

This as of L. Rubrius Dossenus (c. 87 BC) has, instead of the standard Janus, a janiform head combining Hercules and Mercury.  Alföldi connects this image, not to the palestra hermerakles imagery representing sound mind and sound body, but instead to a rather unusual vase image.  (See yesterday’s post for bibliographical citation).

Update 7/1/2020: Crawford judged Alföldi’s interpretation implausible in his 1984 Edinburgh catalogue. See McCabe for summary.



The thing to notice is that the body of the figure is covered in eyes.  This is the standard means of depicting Argos Panoptes, the giant covered in uncountable eyes set to guard Io and killed by Hermes.  He is the mythological representation of the ever vigilant watcher.

A more recent monograph on the Polygnotos painter questions whether the standard identification of the figures (i.e. Hermes slaying Argos to free Io) on this most unusual vase are correct given how much it diverges from the standard representation:


Maybe this is not Hermes or Io, I grant their iconography isn’t typical, but Panoptes is surely intended on the vase given how his body is covered with eyes.  Perhaps we’re not seeing the right Argos Panoptes narrative here; the scholia on Euripides knew of other adventures in which he was a more positive protector, even if the vast majority of literary accounts are on Io.  There is even an early suggestion that Argos only had 4 eyes like a Janiform god:

Hesiod or Cercops of Miletus, Aegimius Frag 5 :
“And [Hera] set a watcher upon her [Io], great and strong Argos, who with four eyes looks every way. And the goddess stirred in him unwearying strength: sleep never fell upon his eyes; but he kept sure watch always.”

Is Alföldi’s suggestion plausible?  Maybe.  The vase certainly isn’t the standard representation but it is of Italic origin and we may be missing other key evidence.  That said, the vast majority of viewer would have been more familiar with the palestra imagery. Cf.  Cicero’s reference to wanting such a statue (ad Att. 1.10.3):


We imagine this would be something like this:

Double-Headed herm Bust

Or like this one in the Boston MFA Collection:

That it is the two individual deities combined in one image which is intended on the coin seems to me to be more likely, given that the inclusion of the attributes of both in the design.  This is not that visible on the specimen, but is noted by Crawford and can be seen on this coin of Andrew McCabe:


See how a club and caduceus jut out on either side below the chin and above the shoulder.

Why did Alföldi find the Argus explanation so attractive?  It allowed him to connect the coin to contemporary politics especially the vigilance of the Marians in anticipation of Sulla’s return.  (He dates the series to 86 BC.)

All that said it is also possible the Cicero/Palestra theory is a red herring.  Cicero might not have meant double herms but instead statues like this:

A little later aside (11/11/13): In that way that so often happens, I came across an odd coin with slightly similar imagery today.  Perhaps, I noticed it because I’d been looking at these janiform/bifrons heads yesterday.  I’m putting it up just so I have a note of it, should it ever prove relevant:

Another potential piece of comparative evidence (found 23/12/13):

Listed on Flickr as:

Janus-herm with addorsed head of Pan [or Zeus Ammon?] and Hercules, Marble, Roman, 1st c. CE; George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum, 51.2002.10; Springfield, Massachusetts,  Gift from the Estate of Dr. Melvin N. Blake and Dr. Frank Purnell

Update 30/1/2014: Discussing Janiform head could also lead to an investigation of this sort of object:

Terracotta aryballos (oil-bottle) in the form of two heads, one male, one female. An imitation of an East Greek type.

3/22/14 update: Compare the coinage of Volaterrae with the image of Argos on the vase painting above. Note in particular the hat and the club:

Etruria, Volaterrae, Dupondius circa 225-215, æ 259.55 g. Janiform head, wearing pointed cap. Rev. FELAQRI Club; on either side, mark of value II. H. pl. 83, 1. Syd. 305. TV 85. Ex CNG 29, The Thurlow collection, 1992, 69 and NAC 10, 1997, 287 sales.

Also of interest is the iconography of the Etruscan god, ‘Culsans’:



Note that the official museum catalogue website describes the headdress on this statue as a wild animal skin.

118 and 119 out of 410 days: Pyrrhus and Thetis

Yesterday late afternoon whilst reading about sources for the Pyrrhic Wars for this book review (It’s a really good book thus far! But slow going because I want to look everything up and enjoy the fun along with the author.) I became obsessed with the image of Thetis on the hippocamp. Below is a rather beautiful specimen in trade (cf. ANS Specimen):


This is often attributed to the Locrian mint in Italy c. 279-274 B.C. The obverse is identified as Achilles (Pyrrhus’ ancestor) and the “portrait” is sometimes thought to be assimilated to Alexander or maybe even Pyrrhus himself. Perhaps the best thing to read on Pyrrhus’ use of the Trojan War narrative is Erskine, Troy Between Greece and Rome, p. 157-161. It’s basically a take down of the idea that Pausanias 1.12 can be taken as actual evidence that Pyrrhus used ‘anti-Trojan’ type propaganda against the Romans. The interesting thing is the relationship of Pyrrhus’ coin type to that of Larissa in Thessaly:


There are also an number of illustrated specimens in the ANS collection. Note how on this specimen below the obverse head has the “whale spout” hair style so often associated with Alexander and also the AX monogram on the reverse shield standing for “Achilles”.


What does Pyrrhus have to do with Thessaly? Well it was his next stop after Italy. So Pausanias, and with references at Plutarch, and Diodorus, and the dedicatory inscription he set up is in the Greek Anthology attributed to Leonidas (6.130). Some discussion of his memorable dedication and his choice of sanctuary can be found in Graninger’s Cult and Koinon in Hellenistic Thessaly. The dedicatory inscription in fact emphasizes his decent from Achilles:



Of course, the image was generally popular, a popularity often ascribed to a lost statue group of Scopas thought to be referenced in Pliny. An Attic Red-Figure Bell Krater c. 350 BC in the BM show the basic image. And, the iconography is also known on Italic ceramics as well:

Black glazed pottery askos with a ribbed body and in relief on the top, Thetis or a Nereid on a hippocamp to the left with Achilles spear in right hand and in left a shield, the hippocamp has a fimbriated fish's tail.

Just to make things more confused there are some little understood finds said to be from Thessaly near Larissa including this:


There is a decent discussion here about this comparative evidence as it relates to Thessalian jewelry and gems.

I guess I’ll just have to mug up on the literature on Larissa and Thessalian numismatics starting with:

C. C. Lorber, Thessalian hoards and the coinage of Larissa, In: American journal of numismatics second series, vol. 20, 2008, p. 119-142, pl. 41-46.

Other literature of interest: Lücke, S. 1995. ‘Überlegungen zur Münzpropaganda des Pyrrhos’. In Brodersen, K., and Schubert, C. (eds.). 1995. Rom und der griechische Osten: Festschrift für Hatto H. Schmitt: 171–3. Stuttgart. As well as, Franke, P. R. 1989. ‘Pyrrhus’. CAH2 7.2: 456–85.

97, 98 out of 410 days: Unknown Proverbs

Nicolo gem engraved with an elephant emerging from a snail-shell.

This isn’t the gem I wanted to post. There is another type. I took notes on it when working through the German gem publications, but can’t seem to find an image to share here. It has a stork (or a crane) holding a set of scales in its beak. The scales hold an elephant and a mouse, but the balance is tipped heavily towards the mouse, not the elephant. It feels like it must represent a parable or proverb, something familiar and funny and prosaic, just out of grasp.

I did find a stork with scales, but those balance pans are empty.

Like the much more common elephant-coming-out-of-a-snail-shell motif, the out-of-balance-scale motif seems both to derive its humor from the unexpected and also to convey a message about proportions:

  • good things come is small packages
  • don’t make a mountain of of a molehill

Then there are sayings about specks and logs if we want slide into Jesus sayings.

Human misperception of proportions is a site of collective and individual anxiety. We know yesterday we misjudged the relative size of some matter in our lives and know that today we are just as likely to be doing the same, just as obliviously.

And sometimes even when all reasonable measurements (the scales) and the testimony of trusted outside observers (the stork), we still want to insist the ‘elephant’ in the room MUST be weightier than that damn mouse.

Reflecting last night on the past few days and my skewed perceptions of reality over that same time frame, I felt a bit like a wobbly stork who by shifting from leg to leg can upset the reading of the balance pans. One moment publication deadlines seem like the most important thing in the world, the next its a social and bureaucratic minutia of leaving the country for 10 months.

Friday I took a day away from writing and went to the Herodotus conference at Columbia and got to be a historiographer for a day. Fabulous conversations. No fisticuffs, as the inimitable Tom Harrison entreated at the opening. But hugely enjoyable cross theatre debate on whether Herodotus is lying at 2.143.

Friday Night/Saturday Morning we hosted dear friends and helped them book their tickets to see us for the passover break. If this were only a food blog, I could tell you about the menu. Alas.

Saturday I wrote late into the evening.

Sunday we went cycling with Turkish friends and then to PA for a huge family send off.

Monday we spent more time with SDA’s family and friends as I started to twitch from lack of academic engagement and an impending sense of doom. Not my finest moment.

From this precise moment I have six hours of uninterrupted work time until we must begin a hideous afternoon of travel shots, medical consultations, bank branch visits and other horrors. I can do something with six hours. Time for the stork to switch legs.


What does the Elephant in the Snail Shell mean? I’ve no idea. Maybe a mash up of

  • Don’t judge a book by its cover.


  • Mighty oaks from little acorns grow

I ILL-ed M. Henig, “The Elephant and the Sea-shell”, Oxford Journal of Archaeology 3 (1984), 243-247 out of pure curiosity. There are however other things crawling out of snail shells on antique gems besides elephants, including sea monsters, and humans:


This image reminds of all the hilarious Diogenes the cynic gems.

Anyway. Enough fun. Just one final proverb for today:

Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow.

Update 27 February 2014: see also newer post on similar iconography.